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I thought I’d post something colorful to celebrate the New Year. Today’s images are of a male Wood Duck that I photographed a few weeks ago in Reid Park, in urban Tucson.
Wood Ducks rank among the most beautiful of all of our native duck species. They certainly are the most colorful. These little ducks are a rare sight in southern Arizona. I’ve only seen three of them (two males and a female) in the nearly six years that we’ve lived here.
I found this one swimming on a small pond, accompanied by several other ducks of other species, mostly American Wigeons. The Wood Duck didn’t appear to be lonely or intimidated. To the contrary, he was a feisty little guy.
At Reid Park visitors often feed the ducks and the ducks gather in hordes to compete for what the visitors toss to them. It often becomes a scrum with ducks literally trampling each other to get at the treats that the visitors toss. The Wood Duck, smaller than its competitors, asked for no quarter and gave none. It aggressively snapped at its neighbors, who quickly gave it a wide berth.
The brilliance of the Wood Duck’s plumage is enhanced in certain light, when it becomes iridescent. Look at this third image. The feathers on the duck’s head, which appear to be a deep green in most light, are a brilliant iridescent green here in direct sunlight. The feathers on the Wood Duck’s cheek, behind its eye, now flash a brilliant lavender.
Iridescence is common with male ducks and hummingbirds. The secret to iridescent plumage lies in its structure. The feathers are shaped into prisms that refract light just like a glass prism. In addition, they contain pigment, so they have a “base” color plus an iridescent color. Male Mallards, for example, have head feathers that are a deep blue in some light (their “base” color) and iridescent green in direct sunlight.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 400, f8, shutter speeds varied from 1/100 to 1/160.